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The Airmen and the Headhunters: A True Story of Lost Soldiers, Heroic Tribesmen and the Unlikeliest Rescue of World War II
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The Airmen and the Headhunters: A True Story of Lost Soldiers, Heroic Tribesmen and the Unlikeliest Rescue of World War II

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  234 ratings  ·  50 reviews
N ovember 1944: Army airmen set out in a B-24 bomber on what should have been an easy mission off the Borneo coast. Instead they found themselves unexpectedly facing a Japanese fleet—and were shot down. When they cut themselves loose from their parachutes, they were scattered across the island’s mountainous interior. Then a group of loincloth-wearing natives silently mater ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published October 8th 2007 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 2007)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 512)
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Kristin
I am writing this as a biased reader because my grandfather is one of the lead figures in this book (Phillip Corrin). I hold this book very dear to my heart because it acted as a window into a huge part of his life that I have always been curious about.

I do think that most readers will also find this book interesting and a very quick read!
Natalie
May 19, 2011 Natalie rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone interested in WWII, Borneo, aviation
Recommended to Natalie by: Komet
Judith Heimann tells an incredible story of American airmen stranded in Borneo's headhunter country during WWII!

The story of these men is also the subject of an PBS documentary series Secrets of the Deadepisode titled The Airmen and the Headhunters . You can watch the whole epsiode on pbs.org . PBS Episode Description:

This spectacular long-lost story of heroism, perseverance, and ingenuity follows the tale of lost WWII soldiers, their unlikely rescue and companionship with the Dayak tribe in Bo
...more
Meri
Gleaned from countless interviews from surviving airmen, headhunters, and their family members, this is the story of stranded American soldiers who survived in hostile territory during World War II thanks to the help of Dayak tribesmen. The title is not pejorative: the Dayaks were indeed headhunters, though their humanity and compassion was evident in the way that the separated airmen were all taken in, fed, and protected by different tribes. The Dayaks went so far as to hunt Japanese soldiers t ...more
Ang
Superbly written; full of interesting information, cultural detail and solid reference, this story tells not only the tale of lost airmen but also paints a clear picture of life in the remote highlands and the struggles and sacrifices all make to go toward helping fellow man in the truly troubled times of Japanese Army domination in the region.

Ten years of research and learning are rounded nicely into a fantastic tale of collaboration and survival, by an author that graciously thanks her editors
...more
Leonard Romney
Jul 29, 2008 Leonard Romney rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Persons learning about WWII
Recommended to Leonard by: Older Brother
I read all WWII stories and documentaries I can. My older brother, who has the same obsession, loaned this one to me, given him by his daughter. It is the recently researched and written story of several men who survived a forced parachute jump from their plummeting B-24 bomber. They landed in the center of Borneo, then the uncharted domain of headhunters. The story documents their salvation by the headhunters and the insights gained by living with this highly moral and civilized society. I reco ...more
Shelley
I gave this book a high rating because the story is so great, not so much for the writing. I'm surprised this has not been made into a full length movie. The characters are remarkable, the airman who survive the wilds of Borneo in the 1940's during WW II, and the wonderful natives who took care of them and joined the war. It really is a great, true story.
Book Concierge
Audio book narrated by Susan Ericksen
3.5***

The book is subtitled: A True Story of Lost Soldiers, Heroic Tribesmen and the Unlikeliest Rescue of World War II.

In November 1944 a B-24 bomber went down in the jungles of Borneo. When the surviving airmen cut themselves loose from their parachutes they were scattered over miles of the island’s mountainous interior. They were not alone for long, however. Soon loincloth-wearing natives found them and communicated by gesture that they were willing to he
...more
Dale
An odd and interesting bit of history from the Pacific Front in World War II

The Airmen and the Headhunters: A True Story of Lost Soldiers, Heroic Tribesmen and the Unlikeliest Rescue of World War II
is a well-researched telling of the story of two sets of American fliers (one Army and one Navy) who were shot down over Borneo by the Japanese. The survivors end up living with the Dayaks, the famous headhunters of the highlands of Borneo.

Borneo was largely unmapped and unknown to the West. It was,
...more
J.
Sep 18, 2014 J. rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: wwii
So maybe I'm a little weird but my all-time favorite novels are stories about castaways on tropical islands, and when I read those books it almost sounds like an adventure. Okay, maybe "adventure" is a bit much, since the castaways faced plenty of hardship, but there's something weirdly alluring about the idea – for me at least. But what if your island wasn't deserted? What if your island was inhabited by cannibals or headhunters or worse?

Well, it turns out some headhunters are actually very nic
...more
Pattyrflg
World War II is virtually over in Europe, but still raging in the Pacific. An Army Air Corp plane is shot down during a bombing raid over Borneo. The pilot and copilot are seriously injured, but are able to keep the plane in the air long enough for the crew to prepare to parachute out. They are over the mountainous area of central Borneo where the purported headhunters live, but they must jump. The copilot and one crewmember never make it out of the plane—it crashes. The pilot is pushed out with ...more
Patrick
Airmen and the Headhunters

If you've watched LOST, then you know that the last place you want your plane to crash is over a remote Pacific island peopled by hostile natives. Well, that's exactly what happened to a crew of American Airmen when their B-24 took a hit during a bombing run on a flotilla of Japanese Navy ships.
The good news was their pilot had the presence of mind to steer the plane away from the coast which was crawling with Japanese. The bad news was the interior Highlands where the
...more
Kay
A very dry morsel of WWII history

In beginning of her book, Judith Heimann notes, “This morsel of Borneo’s World War II history has never before been told in its entirety.” It took her ten painstaking years to gather material for the book, but unfortunately it shows -- there's a laborious, dutiful feeling to this book that is wearisome. C’mon, we’re talking about headhunters here, right? How did the author manage to make this material so dull?

Late in the book, the author condenses the essentials
...more
Debra
A fascinating story about a B-24 crew stranded in the jungles of Borneo during WW2. The men would not have been able to survive if not for a group of Dayak tribesmen who collected them, fed them and hid them from the Japanese. The twists and turns of this story are what keeps you glued. The Dayaks, who for the most part been evangelized prior to the Japanese invasion, are now in a position of deciding how much they are willing to risk to protect these Americans. The young men, boys really, are r ...more
Marti Dahlquist
A story of a plane that went down in Dutch Borneo during WWII and the tribe that chose to hide the, at great risk, from the Japanese. They hid them until the war ended, but getting the Americans out proved to be difficult as there was no landing strip and the small plane that could get in could only carry out a handful of soldiers.
AliceinWonderland
- Mostly I liked this book for the subject matter (as I'm also doing research on Borneo) and I just find the entire landscape there fascinating, along with the conglomeration of native peoples & their culture...
- The fact that it's a true story and that it actually happened is the most fascinating part...Esp. when the Dayaks agreed to resurrect their traditional practice of head-hunting to attack the Japanese...it got really interesting then!!
- I really liked the intriguing cast of characte
...more
Lynn Pribus
An amazing true tale of WWII. Two aircrews had to bail out of damaged aircraft (at two different times) and were sheltered by the Dyak people of central Borneo. Not all survived -- some died in the plane still in the air. The first crew landed in groups some distance apart and were not reunited until many weeks later.

The native people protected and fed them, hiding them from the Japanese. Eventually the survivors were airlifted out one at a time after the Aussies took over the island.

The author
...more
Donnie Edgemon
This is an amazing true story of downed American airmen surviving in the jungle and evading Japanese capture on Borneo with the heavy assistance of natives, colonial officials, and Allied special forces. Heimann's research is extensive and global, synthesizing the first-hand accounts that deceased participants have left behind with interviews from survivors.

World War II was so vast that it was full of such incredible true stories that have never seen print or film. I'm grateful to Heimann for do
...more
carl  theaker


Received this as a bday present and i thought the title sounded hokey, but it is a good read.

The story of a B-24 crew shot down over Borneo while it was occupied by the Japanese and how they hid out in the jungle for several months with the help of the natives who were indeed headhunters.

For various reasons, and at great risk, the natives decided to help the flyers. When you read a tale like this you can't help but think about being in their place, what would you do, how would you handle the ju
...more
Rob
Very interesting read. I don't know if it's thorough, as I've never read anything else on the subject.
Jeanne
After crash landing in the middle of the jungles in Borneo, the crew of a B-24 bomber was taken in by the local Dayaks, a.k.a., headhunters. The airmen were spirited around Borneo to elude capture from the Japanese soldiers, who were protecting their claim to Borneo's wealth of oil to fuel their war effort. Enter the British and the Australians, a band of men used to jungle guerrilla warfare, and the resources to save the American airmen, and to the Japanese stronghold is destroyed. A truly hero ...more
John
excellent book about a tiny slice of WW2 history!
Tom
The best way I can describe this book is that its like a mediocre salad. There are a few chunks of really tasty well-seasoned meat that give some flavor to every fourth bite. But, most of the substance is just uninspiring and somewhat bland.

Heimann's narrative reads like a confused mix of oral history, personal experience among the Dayaks, and impartial scholarship. Its a hybrid formula that just simply makes for an awkward read. But, at times, not even the writing can spoil a pretty interesting
...more
Kathleen Lovelace
This fast paced and well written account of the experiences of American servicemen shot down by the Japanese over uncharted territory on the island of Borneo. They owed their lives to the "headhunters". Though non-fiction, it reads like an adventure story with many surprising occurrences. The author bssed her account on primary documents and interviews with those survivors and tribesmen who were still living.
Art
A very interesting story. I'd seen a TV show based on the book so I added to my list. I'm glad I did, they complimented each other very well.
Tom Schulte
This is an amazing, tropical WWII tale of resolve and privation. Crashed airmen taken in my headhunters who assault Japanese Imperial troopers. The harsh land of Borneo gives birth to a bamboo airstrip, ninja-like survival skills, a repaired Oster plane, and a platoon of armed natives. The hard-to-believe story reads like an adventure tale, but is carefully researched from primary sources.
Cindy
This is a fascinating, exciting true story from World War II. The trials these airmen faced upon crashing in the jungle, ill prepared for the conditions they were to face, make for a gripping read. The background history that brought the natives to heroically assist these airmen adds an interesting edge to the story. Highly recommended.
Gretchen
This is an interesting account of American Airmen who crashed in Borneo and thanks to the help from indigenous tribes were able to survive in the jungle and evade the Japanese until they were rescued at the war's end. The book was well researched due to the author tracking down those still living after all these years to get their accounts.
Kathy
A bit detailed at times, but a fascinating intermingling of cultures. Read as an audiobook.
Dorf
Given the premise, I hoped for a more thrilling book. The writing is a bit deficient, but it's a fascinating true historical tale nonetheless. In the waning days of WWII, American airmen become stranded in the wilds of Borneo and must rely on the uncivilized natives to help them survive and escape the Japanese.
Diane
A surprisingly good book about Americans shot down over Borneo during WW II. I very much enjoyed the story and learning a little about the Dayak (headhunters) of Borneo. The Dayaks rescued the Americans and saved their lives. This a picture of a culture that has now been destroyed. Very worth reading.
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